Clashes with cops were reprisal against
excessive force - Buxton leaders
Youths to present proposal to govt

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
April 2, 2001

Clashes between the police and some residents of Buxton on March 21 were in direct retaliation to excessive force used by the Guyana Police Force and frustrations at being discriminated against and "used" to some extent by government.

This was according to some village elders and young people to whom Stabroek News spoke last Sunday. A number of young people said that the clashes between themselves and the police and the burning of tyres and blockades were "not a racial thing". Similar sentiments were expressed by veteran politician and respected village elder Eusi Kwayana, village leader Yvette Herod and some others who preferred anonymity.

Invited to comment on the recent unrest at Buxton, Kwayana dismissed reports that the events were instigated from outside the community or that it was Blacks against Indians.

Kwayana said that the events which transpired were self-organised and had they been "about beating Indians", he would have taken a firm stand and condemned such actions. He added that there was no truth in the rumours that the protestors on the Buxton Public Road were telling Indians that "we are coming to get you".

He said that the people had genuine grievances which they felt strongly about and he "stands for that self-determination" to protest.

Herod, a leading figure in the Buxton Toucan Club, said that the clashes were not as a result of the attempt by persons to remove statements of poll from the polling station at Buxton. She said citizens felt that they had resolved that matter. But their actions were in fact due to the police sending two contingents of policemen, including fully armed members of Target Special Force, to the area. When Buxtonians learnt that the policemen were on their way, the reaction was spontaneous - they blocked the roadway and burned tyres.

Herod said that prior to the elections, a representative group had met Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj to express their concerns about the use of excessive force by the police on young people, women and people of Buxton in general.

They had warned that people of Buxton were not going to take the abuse and were going to retaliate if they persisted. She said that the clashes last week were not only to show their strength in numbers to the police, but also to get the wider society to understand the plight of Buxtonians.

When the police reinforcement arrived, they met angry people who blocked the road initially against the police by burning tyres and placing logs across the road. The police reacted by "throwing tear gas like mad".

Herod said that if it was a problem of race as some sections of the community were making it out to be, Buxtonians would have inflicted injury on their Indian brothers and sisters or left them to punish in the tear gas. But this was not the case. She said "it was Black people who ran into [the neighbouring community of] Annandale to help the people find water to ease the effects of the tear gas on their children and family members who were suffocating."

She echoed the sentiments of other leaders in Buxton who said that the protest was not about ordinary people of one race fighting against another race but it was a protest against a government that they felt, practised racism. The people in the villages, she said, lived like brothers and sisters.

Buxtonians, she said, were still incensed about being marginalised, yet "used by the government". She gave an example of a group of Buxton school children in an advertisement about the PPP/Civic being a caring government leading up the elections. Many parents and even children, she said, were complaining that they were used in PPP/Civic advertisement when the government had neglected them. She said that some children "are being labelled and they are uncomfortable with it".

These very children, she said, lacked educational opportunities, In the past, she said, Buxton had three secondary schools. Now it has only a community high school.

She said that there was need for infrastructural development including proper drainage and irrigation. Buxtonians, she said, were paying taxes for funds borrowed from multilateral financial institutions for infrastructural works, but Buxtonians, were not benefiting. She pointed out the need for proper drainage and irrigation of the Company Trench in Buxton for people to access farmlands.

At present, she said Buxton was unsettled. "People are just moving and just waiting. For the longest while it has been a village for `liming' and unemployment. The youths here have very little or nothing to do."

She recalled government's youth initiative programme for which the community was still to receive a feedback.

Herod said, "people got a bad view of Buxton as being racial," but "that is not the case." She said if other concerned and relevant government workers would visit Buxton and work among the young and the old they and the wider Guyanese society would understand. What was happening in Buxton might be reflective of other predominantly African villages.

Last Sunday's protest march, she said, was held to highlight the fact that many Buxtonians were disenfranchised. Herod was one of the persons helping people to look for names on the voters list. "Many of them were walking up and down, some had ID cards and some had stubs" but their names did not appear on the voters' list even though they made all efforts to be registered. Buxtonians, she said, somehow feel undermined and they saw the election as a form of freedom from oppression.

The protest march, however, she said had its plusses as after the march the youths discussed some of the things they would like addressed and would want government to assist in. They plan to present the proposal to government.

Buxton, she said, needed assistance and not of the handout type but of sustained programmes which would yield benefits to the young people in helping to develop themselves and the community.